Q&A with Tom Wilschutz, Head of School at Solebury School
Describe Solebury School’s location and unique campus features.
In the early 1920s, Solebury School’s four founders had a vision for a new and different kind of school, one that would translate the lessons they had learned while working at Camp Marienfeld, an all-boys summer camp in New Hampshire. Thus, in establishing Solebury in 1925, it was important that the setting be bucolic, beautiful, and emphasize the outdoors. They found such a place on a rolling, 90-acre farm just outside the city of New Hope, in historic Bucks County, Pa. Today, Solebury School is still nestled on this rolling landscape, surrounded by preserved lands and timber, with a campus that has a mixture of 18th-century buildings alongside many more modern structures. Bisected by a stream flowing into a pond, our students travel to their classes along walkways that take them outside between virtually every class. It’s a bit like attending a school situated in a national park, but one with easy access to exciting urban areas such as New York City and Philadelphia.
How does Solebury’s size inform the student-faculty relationship?
Solebury is an intentionally small school, with 235 students in grades seven-12. Our size remains critical to our educational philosophy. With an average class size of 11, our faculty can get to know each and every one of our students — who they are, what sparks their interest, how they learn best; our size enables us to provide an education tailored to each individual student. Complementing the academic experience, our boarding program further prepares our students for the critical transition to college and greater independence. For the 90-plus years of our existence, if you ask alumni what they remember and value most about their Solebury experience, 99 percent will echo the same sentiment: the excellence and accessibility of the teachers and their student-centered approach to education. The magic of a Solebury education has always been that connection between a teacher and their student.
In what ways do Solebury’s Middle and Upper Schools honor the individual?
If there is one characteristic that defines Solebury School, it is the respect and acceptance offered to everyone. At Solebury there is no “in crowd.” This richly diverse student body accepts and respects everyone for who they are and who they are becoming. Our Middle School nurtures our youngest students and offers an age-appropriate “community within a community.” Many of these students become leaders in our Upper School. A number of our programs are tailored to individual learning styles and interests. We offer a Learning Skills Program for students who have language-based learning differences, a Bridge Program for students who need some assistance with executive functioning skills, and a Math Enrichment and Support Program. We also offer over 30 Advanced Placement and Honors courses, and a rich array of courses in the arts, such as Rock Band, Master Singers, Swing Dance, and Theater. If you have an interest, we have a course!
Give some examples of Solebury’s multi-disciplinary approach to education.
In 11th grade, Solebury’s best students have the opportunity to take American Studies — affectionately termed “Amstud.” A combination of AP U.S. History and Honors English, this course is co-taught by members of the English and history departments. In their sophomore year, students may elect an honors-level ethics course, taught by three different instructors over the course of the trimester — each bringing their unique perspective. Weaving together English, history, film, and theater, Solebury offers classes in film analysis and script writing/directing, taught by professionals with long careers in the industry. Annually Solebury School sponsors STEM Week, weaving together various threads of science and math, as well as offering an Arts Festival—a weeklong celebration of all the arts.
What are Solebury’s plans for the future?
Last year, the board of trustees adopted an ambitious strategic plan that will chart the path of Solebury School for the next 20 to 30 years. Planned enrollment growth, primarily in the boarding population, will have a ripple effect for both staffing and facilities over the coming decades. Our strong academic program continues to grow as we continue to enrich the curriculum — Robotics, Coding, Film Analysis, Engineering I and II, Architecture, and Teach2Serve (a social entrepreneurship course focused on social change), and on and on. Our plans are ambitious and our vision clear: to preserve the core qualities and characteristics that make us Solebury School, while continuing to offer a cutting-edge academic experience in the nurturing environment that distinguishes Solebury School.